Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Zest Exciting Food Creations

FLO was enthusiastically searching for some place to unwind after a stressful day and have a great meal. Zest came to mind after remembering several stellar reviews so we checked out the website. The menu made our decision for us...brie cake, "steak" 'n eggs, asiago "fried" chicken, crab patties...the descriptions were all we needed to jump in the car and make our way asap. We even called ahead to make sure there were options for the wee ones, and we received an exuberant, "of course!"

Located off the beaten path, Zest rests in a strip mall off of 54th and Carvel Ave. FLO is unfamiliar with the area, but discovered Mama Carolla's was close by and a cute looking breakfast place whose name escapes us. Definitely an area we will be returning to one way or another.

Zest provides some outdoor seating, has a small gourmet shop inside and has a higher end interior design, but not too elite, just nice. There weren't many patrons at the time we arrived and we were seated in a low lit dining area just off the entrance.

As the server approached, Ozzy immediately asked, "Do you have any mac 'n cheese?" To his delight, she responded positively. This was surprising to Fred and Libby as the kid's menu did not mention mac 'n cheese, so was this a special order? We decided to start with the Pommes Frites with roasted pepper aioli, wasabi cream, & sea salt and vinegar for dipping. Fred went with the Pan-Blasted Pork, rosemary roasted pork tenderloin with fig & port sauce with roasted garlic smashed potatoes & the night's veggie, which was green beans. Libby decided to go for the Asiago "fried" chicken, crispy asiago-crusted chicken breast with wild mushroom ragoût, roasted garlic smashed potatoes, & the same green beans.

The frites arrived nice 'n hot, well seasoned and a welcome site to Ozzy! Very nice. The sauces were very good, especially the garlic aioli, and the dish really wet our appetite for more. (Although, sorry to say, still doesn't come close to Brugge...they have the blue ribbon in pommes frites and sauce!!!) The entrees came soon after and Ozzy immediately balked at the mac 'n cheese. It was covered in something(potato chips!) and had a definite air of bacon. Sounds awesome to Fred and Libby, but Ozzy has the most unexciting preference in the mac...Kraft or something close to it...he occasionally enjoys the pasta interpretations at many Italian places, but sadly, this was a no go. He did try it, but did not enjoy the porky goodness.

Libby was faced with quite a large portion of lovely mushroom smothered chicken. It was wonderful. A light crisp on the chicken and the ragout was very tasty...mushroomy with lots of herby tomato overtones. It went very well with the chunky, skin in, flavorful, garlic mash. The green beans did nothing for the dish.

Fred's pork was perfectly cooked with a very thick sauce, heavy on the cinnamon and fig...perhaps fig butter? And Fred could not get enough of the smashed potatoes. His seemed extra heavy on the white pepper, which drove him wild! More than making up for the lackadaisical green beans.

As if we weren't full from the ample portions for dinner, we decided to gluttonously try a dessert. The carrot cake called to us! It was very, very good. Different from the typical cake, it appeared to be steamed, as it was so incredibly moist. Large chunks of carrot, dried fruit and nuts were accompanied by the most lightly sweetened cream cheese frosting we have ever tasted. A large portion as well, it put us over the edge. It was a heavy dessert and we should have gone with a lighter option, but it was soooo gooood! Unfortunately, Ozzy sifted out the healthy parts of the cake and would only eat the icing on his slice. Is anyone surprised?

Wrap Up
Price- $$-$$$$, This was the one downside. Perhaps, a bit on the higher side than we would've liked, but we'll still return.
Atmosphere-***, More laid back outdoor seating with fancier indoor accommodations.
Service-****, Accommodating, fast, friendly, and understanding of Ozzy's insistent request for mac 'n cheese followed by the "I don't like it" complaints.

Fred -B+, Everything I ate made me wonder what other creations I can expect when I return for brunch!
Libby -B+, Impressive menu that delivers. I am biased, but Fred's own pork tenderloin recipes put his dish to shame. And yes, brunch is a must in the near future!
Ozzy -B, He loved the frites, and we're sure would dig something else from the kid's menu. He just ordered the wrong thing...happens to all of us.

Zest Exciting Food Creations on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 10, 2009

Viet Bistro

In the mood for something between Chinese and Thai? This is how Fred describes a new ethnic food for FLO, Vietnamese. Located on the northeast side off of 86th, Viet Bistro is a quaint strip mall eatery with a very friendly owner/waitress who is more than happy to meet your dining needs.

On our first visit, she was very accommodating to Ozzy. We never would have thought of it as family friendly until we saw how tolerant she was of Ozzy's complaints that there was no mac 'n cheese. She went so far as to suggest some good noodle alternative that ended up being Libby's favorite!

For an appetizer, we decided on the shrimp spring rolls. We were shocked when they arrived cold. As in refrigerator cold. It was not a good pairing with Libby's interesting "coconut drink"(which Fred really liked). The rolls consisted of vermicelli, shrimp, sprouts, cabbage, pork and mint rolled with rice paper. Dipped in the provided peanut sauce, the flavor was nice, but the consistency was a little slimy for Libby's taste.

As if to add insult to injury, Libby decided to sample the fish sauce between the appetizer and main course. Oops! It wasn't until a second after the fact that Fred realized what she was doing. She had poured 1/2 a teaspoon of fish sauce into her spoon and downed it. For those of you who do not know fish sauce, it's fishy. And not at all meant to be taken on it's own. Libby only recovered midway into her pho -- eventually even adding a dash or two.

If you haven't tried Vietnamese, you must try Pho(pronounced Fuh). A soup at base, it has so many layers of flavor that there is no way you would repeat the same experience twice. A pile of noodles rest on the bottom, with meat options to add, some veggies in the broth, then a great dish of fresh herbs, lime, and bean sprouts on the side that you can add as you wish. And don't forget the great condiments at the table; hot sauce, hoisin, salt, pepper, fish sauce or Maggi.

One thing that would be nice is some sort of tutorial on how to season it... and eat it. It comes with a spoon and chop sticks. We saw a table nearby who looked like Pho Pros, but sadly, we had already eaten and missed the opportunity to learn pre-lunch. Apparently the correct way is with two hands. One for the chop sticks, one for the spoon. Definitely an acquired skill.

Ozzy's dish was very much like thai. His noodles were stir fried in peanut oil with some veggies, peanuts and tofu yumminess that was reminiscent of pad thai...Ozzy may not have dug on it, but Fred and Libby like!

Having never had Vietnamese before, FLO cannot say that Viet Bistro is the best Vietnamese food around. But it was definitely enjoyable and a place to which we will return. As for Ozzy, hopefully he won't be getting a happy meal on the way home again... :(

Wrap Up
Price- $-$$$, Can be very economical, depending on what you get.
Atmosphere-***, Did not look like a strip mall on the inside.
Service-****, Great personal service with a sense of pride and ownership.

Fred - B, Definitely a positive first Vietnamese experience. Somehow I expected it to be more "out there".
Libby - B, Being a true lover of thai, next time I will try their more spicy options.
Ozzy - N/A, Although he tried the noodles, nothing would suffice for the finicky boy.

Viet Bistro on Urbanspoon